When is the last time you looked at the Web site of your own religious organization?
The front page for my home congregation has blog-entry calendar items, but unfortunately all but one of them is out of date. Telling a visitor what already happened as if it's still to come isn't the best way to attract new people.
In looking at the Web pages for Toledo area congregations, I find it's common that religion sites aren't kept current. I see "event updates" dated October, 2012. There are congregations that don't include the names of their ministers. One church that I assume is a heavy user of high tech didn't put in a redirect from its old Web site name when it got a new one, so a Web surfer might think it's no longer in Toledo. Another redirected to the pastor's own Web site. Another Web site I visited had links to nonworking emails for every person named and when I looked closer and found the page was last updated 12 years ago. And even now, almost 20 years after the Web became common, many churches haven't touched the Internet.
Because I use the Internet frequently in my reporting, I probably see more religion Web sites than the average person. We all could use updated and accurate information, though.
There are some essentials that should be easily accessible, on the home screen. The five W's and an H should be there.
Who are the contact people — the clergy, administrators, heads of religious education, people responsible for particular events?
What is the name of the church, temple, mosque, or other place of faith? What is happening on the next sabbath day?
Where is the facility located — physical and mailing addresses, phone numbers, Web site links, connections on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, email both for general information and for contacting folks in the office and on the ministry team (especially the ordained leaders, for confidential messages)?
When do the public events happen, especially the main worship services and the religious education classes?
Why is your church important? Is there a specific mission, particular beliefs, a message to share?
How do I get there? Give driving directions. And how do you worship? Should I be aware of particular actions or procedures? How are you organized? Are you a member of a denomination, and if so, give a link to that Web site. Maybe even include how long a service lasts.
Then consider what else would be important. Think of what would you be looking for if you were using the Web on a sabbath morning to find a church. Maybe a picture of the building—both the prettiest view and what you would see from the street as you're driving by. Where is parking located? For both members and visitors, include a link to the current issue of the newsletter and a calendar of events.
Less important, but good for the Web site on a link page, would be sermons, whether transcribed or on video, and even bulletins for upcoming services. And pictures of the congregation in action, both at the synagogue, masjid, or parish and in the community.
And remember to develop policies for who has access to change what on your Web site.
I'm not a Web expert. The course on Internet elements that I took happened before the World Wide Web was in the curriculum. But I do know what I'd like to see, so please help me, and any visitor, get to your place of worship by giving time, place and directions, and contact numbers and email addresses on your Web site.
Contact TK Barger at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter: @TK_Barger.
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